Saturday, January 25, 2014

Uncharted Terrain of Mind

Hello All, 
A belated good new year to all of you! Eileen and a monastic from Plum Village, Sister Jewel,  just completed a 5 day retreat for People of Color and tomorrow start a 7-day retreat on the Manifestation of Beings Together…so things at Mountain Lamp have been fun, spacious and intense, a good start to our new year. In November, Eileen and I will be leading a 3 week retreat to India, In the Footsteps, and we have 10 of the available 17 slots spoken for. If you have any interest, please look to for details. We will also be leading a 3 week study retreat in May and Red Pine will be joining us on one of the weekends to give talks pertinent to the topic at hand. Again, please check the Mountain Lamp web site for details. Spaces will be limited, so sign up soon.

In various Buddhist writings, we find references to the mind. One teacher speaks of the joyous mind, the magnanimous mind and the nurturing mind. Another speaks of the 3 poisonous minds of greed, hatred and ignorance. In another text, we find the minds of great doubt, faith and determination. These descriptions of mind are all spoken of from the side of practice. Speaking from the side of practice  helps us to conceptualize and take encouragement within the labyrinthian fields of phenomena that we traverse as we walk this path. It helps us negotiate and understand the boulders and scree, the shallow lakes and dense valleys, the sweeping pinnacles and ragged pickets of the fields of practice. Yet, a warning given by the best of teachers reminds us that these minds are simply broad-brushed maps and, in some ways, have very little to do with the reality of what is right here before us. They are aids, and like all good aids, should be jettisoned when they are no longer helpful or necessary. This is why it is so important to have a teacher who has wandered the terrain of body-mind fallen away. As humans, we tend to hold onto and use the maps longer than they are necessary. Consult and listen to the teacher, who in many cases, will encourage you to bury the maps long before you might imagine it possible.

Lin-chi, on being asked about the minds of practice said, “Buddha—this is the cleanness and purity of the mind. The Dharma—this is the shining brightness of the mind. The Way—this is the pure light that is never obstructed anywhere. The three are in fact one (& I would add, not even one!). All are empty names and have no true reality”. No true reality is body-mind dropped away. To say that the dropped away body and mind is an experience of zazen, or of one attempting to attain kensho, is missing the point of the words. (As an aside, kensho is not getting anything or becoming something. It is not a goal anymore than sitting shikantaza is a goal. It is quite literally ‘seeing into nature’). The dropped away body and mind is a simple utterance of the true configuration of the universe. In this sense, dropping off body and mind has nothing to do with sloughing off, taking off, or falling off. Dropped body-mind is knowing yourself as all things and all things knowing themselves as you. It is, as I said earlier, an utterance of the universe telling itself clearly, concisely and directly what it actually is…no true reality. Dogen himself did not say these words. His teacher did not espouse them either. This saying was reality showing itself as it always does, as it always must. And in this saying, in this sitting-walking-standing-laying down life of no true reality, we enter the gateway of ease and joy. There is nothing to rely on and so we find all are woven with the fabric of freedom, boundlessness & space.

Of course, as I said before, on a practice level these words can be construed to mean we have to drop our attachments…to things, to others, to self. This is true but it is not the full truth and to miss this misses zen and zazen. At times, it is very helpful to speak of ways to be with the mind of phenomena—to return to your breath; to count to 10, coming fully and completely to each number as it appears; to allow mu to do mu; to do metta or karuna practice when the waves and winds of this very world reach a dizzying pitch and body-mind feels lost, despair, dejection; to sit in Who Hears; to sit with open hands and warn hearts. But at some point, if even for only a moment, each must see through the one who sees and then: The ground, clear and bright, has neither surface nor inside; How can there be body and mind which would drop away?




  1. Mind and Practice are words, as are all commentaries...words to defy words, a puzzling game. But in enticing the blind, words are like bread crumbs dropped along an unobvious path.Yet to focus on the bread, which all hungry ghosts do by nature, is to miss the path. The real point of this enticement may be just to confound the mind to the point where it throws up its hands and says "enough"! Then the wordless is seen, the mind...less confusion. It's so simple to "Stop", but there seems to be no motivation behind it. Yet enticements into the tangle of words?...You're entering a maze without end!

    1. Yes, but bare in mind--the words too are it and also to be lost in the labyrinth following the crumbs very closely (which are the light itself) is actually to find the groundless ground immediately below your feet.
      Let's be aware that lost and found, enlightenment-delusion, hungry ghosts-bodhisattva are only a mistake of perception.

    2. I guess it is this " following very closely" that embodies the quality of practice. Here is the tipping point between awakening and delusion...if there is no need to distinguish here, then does practice exist?


  2. Sitting with these words I realize I don't know what mind or body is. I feel this body in fractions- the belly rising, the pain in the legs, the soft wind of breath on my lips. I see the mind moving like the poplar tree in the winter wind- shuddering and frail. The constant movement busy and delirious most of the time. Where to stand?
    But I find ground and I don't know where it comes from or goes.
    From day to day I arrive at the scheduled time- wherever that may be- and I don't know what will show up between myself and the world. I don't know who will appear or what will happen. I just wait and listen and sometimes its absurd, or offensive or kind and generous or poetic or complacent. I am usually surprised if I'm not appalled by myself.
    But it doesn't linger long because there is always the next thing- the next thing to be surprised by.

    How can I not know the body and mind which does not drop?


    Wishing you all well!




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